Have you ever felt like you had to please someone else at the expense of your own needs and feelings? Or found yourself in a relationship where you were constantly compromising, or apologizing even when you didn’t do anything wrong? Then you maybe a fawning type. In this article we explore what the fawn response is.
We will explain how fawning develops, how it affects your relationships and how you can heal from it.
By understanding the fawn response you can learn to break free from toxic patterns and reclaim your authentic self.
What is a Trauma Response?
The fawn response is one of the four trauma responses humans can have when they face danger.
The other three are fight, flight, and freeze response (you can find out more about these here: The 4Fs Trauma Model: Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fawn – Which one are you?).While these responses are natural and adaptive, they can become harmful when they are triggered by chronic unresolved trauma.
What is the Fawn Response?
The term “fawn response” was coined by Pete Walker, a therapist and author who specializes in complex post traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), especially childhood trauma.
The fawning trauma response is a survival strategy that involves pleasing or placating the perceived aggressor or person in a power position. It is based on the belief that if you can make the other person happy they will not harm or abandon you.
Origins of the Fawn Trauma Response
The fawn response is often seen in children who grow up in abusive or neglectful environments. They learn to adapt to their caregivers’ moods and demands in order to survive.
As a result the child develops complex trauma.
Complex trauma describes trauma that has no singular cause, but is a result of an accumulation of abuse over time that you cannot escape from. It can be physical, mental or neglect.
During this time the child learns it can get safety and connection, no matter how small, by abandoning it’s own needs and becoming helpful and compliant to the parents needs.
To turn a child into a co-dependent the parent must scare and shame the child out of developing a sense of self. As a child with a strong sense of self will not abandon it’s own needs.
Developing the Fawn Response Later in Life
As a result of traumatic events such as sexual assault, domestic violence, bullying, or workplace harassment complex ptsd can develop later in life.
In these situations the victim feels powerless to escape or fight back, so they resort to complying or cooperating with the perpetrator in order to avoid further harm.
The abuse, like childhood abuse, must be persistent and in different forms. It does not have a major event like PTSD that caused it, complex trauma is caused by an accumulation of abuse.
How the Fawn Response Affects Your Relationships
Fawning can have a negative impact on your relationships in several ways. Some of the common signs and symptoms of fawning are:
You Have Low Self-Esteem and Self-Worth.
Also known as toxic shame. You feel like you don’t deserve love, respect or happiness. You often criticize and blame yourself for everything that goes wrong.
People With a Fawn Trauma Response Have Poor Boundaries and Difficulty Saying No.
You let others take advantage and manipulate you. Agreeing to things you don’t want to do or that go against your values. You feel guilty or ashamed when you stand up for yourself, further affecting your mental health.
You Have a Hard Time Identifying and Expressing Your Own Needs and Feelings.
When you are fawning, you suppress your emotions and opinions to avoid conflict. However, you feel responsible for making others happy and solving their problems.
Fear of Abandonment and Rejection.
You cling to unhealthy relationships and tolerate abuse or mistreatment. Worrying that if you leave or end a relationship you will be alone and unloved. You often feel anxious and insecure when someone is angry or withdraws from you.
When you Have a Unhealthy Fawn response You Don’t Know Who You Are
You mould yourself to fit the expectations and preferences of others. Changing your appearance, behavior, hobbies and values to please others or to avoid criticism. You don’t know who you are or what you want.
How Can You Heal from the Fawn Response?
Healing from the fawn response is possible, but it requires patience and courage. Here are some steps that can help you heal:
Learn About the 4F Response to Trauma
If you have a Fawning trauma response you will respond well by understanding the 4F’s. When you see your behaviour in the light of the four types of responses you create distance between yourself and the response.
This will help you Realize you are not the fawn response. It’s something you learned as survival tool, nothing more. You will also see how your trauma compels you into relationships with narcissistic type of people.
If You Have Fawn Response to Trauma Seek Professional Help.
If you have trauma it is important to get support from a qualified therapist who can help you process your emotions and heal your wounds. Therapy can also help you develop healthy coping strategies to deal with stress and triggers.
Manage Emotional Flashbacks.
When we are in an emotional flashback we have regressed back to childhood in that moment. We feel abandoned, shame and fear. The flashback does not have an obvious cause we can pin point so we attribute it to what is happening in the moment.
Manage the flashbacks by recognising them as they happen. Reminding yourself you are in an adult body and not in a dangerous environment like you were as a child.
This takes time. This is where a professional can help you.
Reduce the Inner Critic to Heal the Fawn Response
Learn to shut the critical voices up. They are the voices that say you are not good enough and trigger you into panic when you are about to stand up for yourself. These voices are not you. They are the voices of your parents or caregivers.
You can do this telling them to go away or shut up. Again professional help would be benefit you in this area.
This article explains the types of inner voices we have and where they come from, Life Scripts: The Hidden Patterns that Control Your Life.
Realize You Over – Listen
People with a fawning trauma response over listen. A would be predator will spot this like a shark smells blood.
Learn to express your point of view. Catch yourself when you are listening and not saying anything other than encouraging them to talk more about themselves.
In healthy relationships there is a balanced give and take between listening and talking. Have a look at this article for more on obedient behaviour: Type of Obedient Behaviours You are Exhibiting.
Practice Staying Present
One of the keys to healing and going beyond your habitual triggered fawning is to stay present to your feelings.
You will then notice when you feel threatened you into the fawn trauma response. At this point you can break the cycle by using breathing or other techniques.
In order to try and get some control in their lives codependent fawning people will spend time trying to work out what others are experiencing and very little on what they themselves are experiencing. Staying present will help change this dynamic.
Self-care is not selfish. It is essential for your well-being and recovery. Self-care means taking care of your physical and mental health as well as your emotional and spiritual needs.
Cover the basics of eating well, sleeping enough and exercising regularly. On top of these you can meditate, journal, spend time in nature, engage in hobbies and connect with supportive people.
Learn to Set Boundaries.
Boundaries are the limits that you set for yourself and others in terms of what you are comfortable with and what you are not.
As a fawn type when you feel fear you will drop all boundaries as a way to avoid danger or confrontation.
Boundaries protect you. They also help you communicate your needs and expectations clearly.
To set boundaries you need to know your values, rights and limits.
You should be able to say no without feeling guilty or afraid.
Realize that even the thought of saying “no” can trigger you into an emotional flashback.
Express Your Needs and Feelings.
You don’t have to hide or deny your feelings to please others or avoid conflict. Your feelings are important messengers, get to know them and do not be afraid of them. This article will help you if you want to dig deeper: Four Branches of Emotional Intelligence.
Use “I” statements to share your thoughts and emotions without blaming or attacking others. For example, “I need some time alone right now.”
Remember, you can help people without abandoning your own well being in moment. For more on cultivating a healthy way of helping people see: Why Do I Need to Be Needed.
When you see how long you lived by putting other above yourself and abandoning your own needs you will feel a deep sadness. You will need to grieve this loss, not only for yourself now but also the for the child you were.
When you allow yourself to grieve you will feel anger. Use this anger to set boundaries. It’s a righteous anger so is balanced and courageous.
Notice Your Mirroring Behaviour
Mirroring is when you use the same language others use or the same body posture to get them to like you.
We all want to be liked, however when we are in good mental health we also understand that we will not be liked by everyone and are ok with it.
Accept disapproval, it’s normal part of life. Not everyone is going to like you or what you do.
Reconnect With Yourself.
A person with a fawn trauma response was repeatedly forced to abandon his individuality in childhood.
As you heal from complex ptsd and habitual fawning you want to also get in touch with your authentic self again.
You can do this by:
Exploring your interests, passions, talents, values and beliefs.
Celebrate your strengths and achievements.
You can try using affirmations. These are positive and empowering statements such as “I am worthy”, “I am capable”, “I am enough”.
The fawn response is a result of complex ptsd. It is a survival strategy that involves pleasing or appeasing the perceived threat or aggressor. Fawning develops in response to childhood trauma and sometimes in adulthood.
It can affect your relationships in negative ways such as:
Lowering your self-esteem
Eroding your boundaries,
Suppressing your needs and feelings.
Increasing your fear of abandonment.
and losing your identity.
However, you can heal from the fawn response and enjoy physical and mental health.
You can do this by:
Seeking professional help.
Reducing the inner critic
Expressing your needs and feelings.
Reconnecting with yourself.
By doing so you can learn to love, respect and finally be yourself.